Overruling its own experts, UN cultural agency UNESCO on Friday granted endangered World Heritage status to ancient terraces in the West Bank that are under threat from the Israeli security barrier.
After an emergency nomination by Palestinian officials, UNESCO’s annual World Heritage Committee gathering in Doha voted to grant the protected status to the agricultural community of Battir, which straddles the Green Line just south of Jerusalem and where Israel plans to erect part of the barrier.
The granting of the status is likely to boost the efforts of local residents locked in a high-profile court battle to change the route of the barrier.
“The site is inscribed, congratulations to Palestine,” committee chairwoman Sheikha Al-Mayassa bint Hamad bin Khalifa Al-Thani said after the resolution was narrowly approved, against the recommendations of UNESCO experts.
The Palestinian delegation rejoiced at the vote, hugging and cheering.
Battir is famous for its ancient terraces and Roman-era irrigation system which is still used by villagers for their crops.
But the village has come under threat from Israeli plans to erect part of the West Bank security barrier there, which experts say will irretrievably damage the water system.
The Palestinians won membership in UNESCO in October 2011 and quickly moved to submit a number of sites for recognition, including an emergency application for Bethlehem’s Church of the Nativity which was approved in June the following year, despite Israeli objections.